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Crimes of the Future finds auteur David Cronenberg returning to earlier themes

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Writer-director David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) helms this sci-fi horror film set in the future, where performance artist Saul Tenser (frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen) has his organs removed before a live audience with help from his assistant and partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Saul suffers from "accelerated evolution syndrome," which causes him to grow new organs, but his performances draw the attention of the National Organ Registry, its chief bureaucrat Wippet (Don McKellar), and his assistant Timlin (Kristen Stewart), who develops an unhealthy fascination with Saul after witnessing a performance. (107 min.)

BODY AND SOUL Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) grows new organs, only to have them removed on stage as performance art in a specially designed device used to perform autopsies, in the sci-fi horror film Crimes of the Future, screening in Downtown Centre. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ARGONAUTS, BELL MEDIA, AND THE CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION
  • Photo Courtesy Of Argonauts, Bell Media, And The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
  • BODY AND SOUL Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) grows new organs, only to have them removed on stage as performance art in a specially designed device used to perform autopsies, in the sci-fi horror film Crimes of the Future, screening in Downtown Centre.
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Glen I've seen most of auteur David Cronenberg's films, but two in particular seem to be informing Crimes of the Future: Crash (1996), about a group of sex fetishists who are erotically satisfied by experiencing body-mangling car crashes; and eXistenZ (1999), about a video game designer who's created an apparatus that looks like something alien yet organic, which is an interface to a virtual world. In this film, Saul has three similarly weird devices: He sleeps in an OrchidBed that's supposed to aid in his rest; he has a chair designed to help him eat and digest food; and he performs in a device originally designed to perform autopsies. He and Caprice's performances are highly sexual. As one character says, "Surgery is the new sex," and indeed, in this futuristic world humans don't seem to feel pain as we do, and many are growing new organs that may be a step in human evolution, such as an underground group that's developed a digestive tract that can eat and digest plastic. It feels like a commentary on the increasingly synthetic and toxic environment we've created, as well as a comment on extreme body modification and sadomasochistic sex practices. It's a weird, challenging film, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I saw it.

Anna For some reason, I can't keep the title of this film straight—maybe some weird brain thing that puts Crimes of the Future and Crimes of Grindewald too close together, so every time someone has asked what we watched this week I end up saying, "Some really weird horror movie," and then go on to explain (or try to) the premise of this film. All that's to say that my review of this film may be a bit stunted, quite frankly, because I kind of just don't get it. I actually really appreciate when a film has the wherewithal to make me uncomfortable; it can show some great skill on the part of the filmmaker when it's done in a way that isn't just for jump scares. I did feel uncomfortable here, and Cronenberg definitely has a skill for this type of work. He paints a bleak future full of abandoned ships, lurking figures, and the mundane shop talk of Saul and Caprice's uncomfortable and visceral business. The film is certainly offering up commentary on our world and the razor's edge we walk with fascinations of violence and death. Was it a fun watch for me? No, but it worked hard at evoking feeling from its audience.

Glen Early in his career, Cronenberg made a film with the same unmemorable name, but that Crimes of the Future (1970) focused on a dermatologist and a plague that killed all sexually mature women who used cosmetic products. Can we just agree that Cronenberg is a singular visionary? His '70s and '80s work was campy and intelligent fun. Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), and Videodrome (1983) were really interesting horror films. He found mainstream success with The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1983), and Dead Ringers (1988). This new film is straight-up weird, and I'm guessing a lot of people won't like it. Its Rotten Tomatoes audience score is 45 percent. I'm glad I saw it, but go only if you want to revel in creepy oddity.

Anna It doesn't fall into the category of "must see" for me, though the leads give it their all. Creepy, weird, how many different ways can I describe how odd and unsettling this film is? It's a tough one to recommend, so trust your gut when it comes to taking this movie on—it isn't going to be for everyone. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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